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SMV Green / A rickshaw revolution

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SMV Green is creating fair working conditions, with electric rickshaws and reliable contracts – empowering drivers to buy their vehicles and earn more money, while reducing the air pollution that kills thousands every year.

Its radical Vahini programme is training India’s first women rickshaw drivers, creating secure incomes for them and improving safety and security for their female passengers.

1,140 e-rickshaws sold so far 

39 women e-rickshaw owners in the Vahini programme 

Over 100 million passenger journeys so far 

"We have observed 60-150% increase in income of manual rickshaw drivers moving to e-rickshaw, and we have noticed significant improvement in lives of family … they are able to send their kids to school and afford 3 meals a day... In addition, this has significant impact on the health of manual rickshaw drivers."

Deepak Goel, Shell Foundation

10 million cycle rickshaw drivers in India work in difficult conditions for minimal pay. They must also spend a big chunk of their income paying expensive rickshaw rental fees. The alternative, auto-rickshaws, are also expensive for drivers to rent, and although the work is less physically demanding, they are polluting and noisy due to their diesel and petrol engines. Women in poor, socially conservative communities have been blocked from driving rickshaws, leaving them with few opportunities for employment other than domestic work.

SMV Green’s vision is to provide affordable, clean and safe mobility for both drivers and commuters, and eliminate the drudgery of cycle rickshaw work by helping drivers switch to electric rickshaws (e-rickshaws). It does this by providing a ‘one-stop-shop’ for drivers that covers financing, vehicle supply, licensing and permits, money management training, road safety training, and after-sales service. SMV Green is currently active in Varanasi, Prayagraj (formerly known as Allahabad), Lucknow and Patna.

Finance is offered at around 7% interest, compared to over 20% for most auto-rickshaw providers. Drivers pay a 10% deposit on the e-rickshaw and the balance over 24 to 30 months. This works out cheaper for the driver than renting, allowing them to make a living wage while buying their vehicle outright. SMV Green offers training to help prospective drivers save for their deposit, but if they cannot do this, funds from the UK Department for International Development can provide an interest-free loan.

Drivers can swap empty batteries for fully charged ones so they don’t lose any valuable time to charging

Batteries are an expensive part of any electric vehicle, and charging can be a challenge due to an unreliable grid, so SMV Green offers two battery types: lead-acid and lithium. Lead acid batteries are cheaper than lithium, but have a shorter range and lifespan. But for some drivers the up-front capital cost is the most important factor.

For those that choose lithium, the lifecycle cost is lower, and they can also access the SMV Green battery swap service, where for a modest fee they can stop at an SMV Green charging station and swap their depleted battery for a freshly charged one. The swap takes just five minutes, minimising the time they are off the road and removing the need to make arrangements for charging at home.

SMV Green helps the poorest and most marginalised people own and operate e-rickshaws, in particular women who would otherwise have little opportunity for satisfying work and a fair wage. Drivers can charge passengers less than the typical auto-rickshaw fee while still making a good income – many of those who previously drove cycle rickshaws have doubled their income.

Compared to auto-rickshaws, both drivers and passengers benefit from the reduced noise and elimination of local pollution, and CO2 emissions could be further reduced when the Indian electricity grid is decarbonised in future. From a health point of view, even though there is still air pollution on the streets from other vehicles, the drivers are not having to make strenuous efforts while breathing it, as they did when driving cycle rickshaws.

SMV Green’s Vahini programme uses an all-female team to recruit women owner-drivers, who often find their lives are transformed by owning an e-rickshaw – they feel more independent and have higher self-esteem thanks to earning a good wage. An added benefit is that female passengers feel safer with a female driver, especially as the Vahini vehicles are equipped with a camera and mobile phone to ensure the safety of both driver and passenger by recording events and making a ‘panic button’ available.

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